What Transferable Skills Mean in the Real World; My Journey from Lab Scientist to Marketing Content Manager
If you’d asked me what I’d be doing with my career when I started college back in the early 1980’s, I would have said I’d be working in the “business world”, whatever that meant to the 18-year-old who began college as a generic business major. The business world I thought I’d be in and the one I work in today are vastly different.
Where Transferable Skills Get Started
My academic career began by taking general business and economics classes. On a lark, I took freshman chemistry to fulfill my science requirement with all of the engineers and pre-meds. Much to their chagrin, I scored higher on the final exam than 95% of the class. That grade and the fact that economics was a great way to catch up on sleep changed the course of my college career. And, like every starving student, I needed to make some money. To make the big bucks (a whopping $3.25/hour back then), I worked ten hours a week for most of my college years in the cataloging department of the library. I was the person who put the “tattle tape” in the book so if you left the library without checking out the book, it’s what made the alarm go off. Four years later, I graduated with a BS in Biochemistry.
Just Because You Start in One Career…
I began my career working in applied polymer science, the beginning of my transferable skills journey, trying to figure out ways to make a better dish soap bottle. The stop in the world of polymer science was short and I moved onto the beginning of my career in the pharmaceutical industry doing medicinal synthesis, creating small molecule drugs, under the direction of a PhD chemist. I was fortunate: my boss let me design experiments and do the library research (using the print version of Chemical Abstracts since there was no Yahoo!, Bing, or Google in the mid-1980’s) to find the best method of synthesizing the molecules we were after. A few years into my med chem life, I realized I didn’t always want to be the hands in the lab, I wanted to be the brain behind my work but I knew that going back to grad school for a PhD in chemistry wasn’t my path.
Switching Career Lanes
“My career journey has not been a conventional one. Much of it came about by saying yes to opportunities that were not part of the traditional linear path most follow. The ability to take skills learned in one part of my career and transfer them to new assignments and roles has allowed me to do a lot of interesting work …”
So, what’s a girl to do? Obviously, grad school for library science. It seemed to be the perfect mix of science and research outside of the lab. I got to apply the knowledge I had gained in the lab and my passion for doing research, analyzing and solving problems while continuing to work in tangible ways to help patients overcome serious diseases. I was lucky: my company had an opening for a chemistry literature and patent researcher when I first started my master’s degree. I was able to get my theoretical and practical library training at the same time. My first library boss was a fantastic mentor. She taught me how to use my lab science research skills and apply them in order to conduct information research on behalf of others. That experience has influenced the way I attack information research projects to this day.
New World, Changing Skills
Fast forward ten years into my career as an information researcher. It’s 1998 and the internet has arrived in Corporate America. The pharmaceutical company where I worked began rolling out enterprise-wide access to the “interweb” and put Netscape on every employee’s desktop. The internet was so new, and people were still learning how to decide what was real and what wasn’t as they made their way through Yahoo’s search results. This became an opportunity to apply scientific, business, analysis, and research skills which had all been gleaned earlier in my career. Plus, I could apply rigor and metrics to determining the validity of information found on the web. And I could share that decision-making process with my colleagues in R&D. It wasn’t long before it became clear that I needed to further augment my analytics research skills with IT skills. Can you say HTML coding? I built more web pages and small websites than I ever could have imagined in those early years. I learned the basics of UX and interface design during that period then later applied those skills in IT projects.
Never Stop Learning
Later in my career, I was invited to collaborate with my scientific and IT teams, integrating companies our employer had acquired. Working on those teams allowed me to the use skills I had and afforded me the chance to gain new ones, which would serve me well later on. I learned more about IT systems, records management practices, therapy areas, and cross functional team management than I could have by doing my day job! I was able to use my day job skills of information research, science/business knowledge, project management, negotiation, and communication skills to navigate each of these assignments.
By the end of my big pharma career, I was using every skill I had ever learned or acquired to lead IT implementation projects and participate as the communications lead for a multimillion-dollar internal search engine project that was transforming how my R&D colleagues would find information held in databases across the company.
Making the Jump to Life Sciences Digital Marketing
So now you ask, how did I end up working at Bracken Marketing, a life sciences digital marketing company? Networking! It is one of the most important transferable skills you can nurture throughout your career. You never know when or where the next opportunity will come from. Staying in touch with former colleagues and business contacts can change your path.
When the content manager opportunity came up with Bracken Marketing, I looked back at my career and made a list of the skills I’d gained while in the pharma industry. All of the skills I gathered in my big pharma life have become an integral part of how I work today.
Here is a peek at my transferable skills list and their application as Bracken Marketing’s content manager.
Scientific Knowledge: understand the science behind a client’s technology or service offering
Business Analysis: understand the client’s positioning, strategy and goals relative to the rest of the market
Project & Time Management: coordinate deliverables, manage timelines, budgets and communication
Informational Research: know how to source, vet, authenticate and apply information to develop informed, quality content
Information Technology: know how to use SharePoint, HTML, GUI interfaces to manage and distribute content as well as for website testing and content transfer
People Management: understanding each writer’s style, interests, and need for work-life balance which ensures a better fit between the writer, topic, and client leading to the production of high-quality content
My career journey has not been a conventional one. Much of it came about by saying yes to opportunities that were not part of the traditional linear path most follow. The ability to take skills learned in one part of my career and transfer them to new assignments and roles has allowed me to do a lot of interesting work and meet many smart committed individuals from whom I continue to learn.